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Mattress and Bedding fires

 CPSC representatives have reported to media that mattress fires cause 700 deaths annually (Columbus Dispatch) and 1,000 deaths annually (Scott Wolfson of CPSC, ABC news story) The real numbers are quite different as reported in the Washington Post and in the CPSC Draft law.

 The real numbers are 440 deaths, and the CPSC hopes to save 310-330 deaths from mattress and bedclothes fires combined.

 Since these fires are from mattresses and bedclothes combined, how much responsibility should the mattress have? The CPSC reports that bedclothes were the first item to ignite in 80% of mattress/bedding fires. Thus mattresses would be responsible for 20%

The new law is for open flame ignition. The CPSC reports that “open flame fires accounted for 140 deaths (32%)”

 Considering these factors mattresses might be responsible for 20% of the 140 open flame deaths or 28 deaths annually. If the new law would save their estimated 75% (330/440) it might save up to 21 people annually.

 Without this law your risk of death from a mattress fire is 300,000,000/21 or 1 in 14,285,714. See your risks from other accidents in Odds of Dying

 The ABC news story reported mattress fire deaths of 12,712 from 1980 to 1998. If you multiply 18 years times 440 it is 7,920, and these numbers do not agree. Here is why from a quote from ISPA’s website:

“From 1980 to 1998, bedroom fires dropped 68 percent and their related deaths by 52 percent, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Why? -- A standard that was enacted in 1973 that prevents mattress ignition from cigarettes.”

 Do we need more regulation?

 Regardless of which number you accept, 330 or 21 saved, or somewhere in between, the number pales in comparison to our entire population of 300 million who are put at some level of risk from sleeping in toxic chemicals. Some people consider it a negligible risk, but if this risk materializes years later in even a small percentage of mattresses, millions of people will die! The risk outweighs the benefit.


 See supporting quotes from the CPSC draft law below:

 The most recent national fire loss estimates indicate that mattresses and bedding were the first items to ignite in 19,400 residential fires attended by the fire service annually during 1995 - 1999. These mattress and bedding fires resulted in an estimated 440 civilian deaths, 2,230 civilian injuries, and $273.9 million property loss annually. Based solely on the characteristics of the fire cause, an estimated 18,500 fires causing $259.5 million in property loss annually were considered addressable by the staffs draft proposed standard. The estimated 440 deaths and 2,160 injuries that occurred in these fires annually are considered potentially preventable by the draft standard. 

The staff evaluated in-depth investigations of fire incidents and concludes that a standard preventing or delaying time to flashover from an open flame mattress fire could be effective in reducing major fire losses. The staff believes it is feasible to limit the size of mattress fires to the extent that 310-330 civilian deaths (80-86%) and 1,660-1,780 injuries (86-92%) could be potentially eliminated annually.

From CPSC draft law page 8 of pdf, page 5 of document.


Regarding bedclothes, laboratory fire tests have shown that some bedclothes burning on an improved mattress/foundation (one producing less than a 50 kW peak rate of heat release) are sufficient to cause flashover of the room. The high peak heat release rates observed from some bedclothes items with a large fuel load, such as comforters, were much higher than that allowed for a mattress/foundation in the draft proposed mattress standard. This suggests the need for limits on some bedclothes as well. 

 The most serious portion of the remaining mattress/bedding fire problem could be addressed by limiting the size of the fire produced by some of the largest (fuel load) bedclothes products. The total fire produced by the bed set, then, would be small enough to preserve the occupant egress time offered by preventing or delaying flashover conditions. Accordingly, the staff recommends publishing an advance notice of proposed rulemaking for a standard for bedclothes flammability. 

From CPSC draft law page 9 of pdf, page 6 of document.


The estimated 440 deaths and 2,160 injuries that occurred in these fires annually are considered potentially preventable by the standard. Among the addressable casualties, smoking fires accounted for 210 deaths (48 percent) and about 640 injuries annually (30 percent). Open flame fires accounted for about 140 deaths (32 percent) and 1,050 injuries annually (49 percent). 

 From CPSC draft law page 17 of pdf, page 14 of document.


Even with a substantially improved mattress, certain bedclothes combinations have produced near flashover conditions in these laboratory tests.

 From CPSC draft law page 23 of pdf, page 20 of document.


Among the in-depth investigations reviewed (which include more details of the incident scenarios), it appears that non-electric bedclothes items were the first items to ignite in about 80 percent of mattress/bedding fires.

 From CPSC draft law page 24 of pdf, page 21 of document.